Defend the NHS March and Rally 16th Apr 11

Around 200 vocal protestors, ranging from children to pensioners, joined our march to defend the NHS against the government’s Health and Social Care Bill. The march, accompanied by a brass ensemble, went through Poole High Street onto the Quay receiving a good reception from onlookers along the way. There was then a rally with excellent speeches from Steve Warwick (UNISON), Kevin Stevenson (UNITE), Helen Thomas (BPACC) and Paul Mackney (Coalition of Resistance).

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BPACC Chair being interviewed after the march

Paul Mackney’s speech

I am speaking for the national Coalition of Resistance to cuts and Privatisation – a broad alliance of anti-cuts campaigns, unions, user groups and so on. But I do have local connections too. Many of my family live round here. I was a lecturer at what was then Poole Tech on North Road in the early seventies. My mother drove for the hospital car service in this area’. She was cared for and finally died in Poole General.

The ConDem Government seems to be running into a few problems recently – problems like doctors, nurses, patients, civil servants, disabled people, Local Government workers, pensioners, carers, women, immigrants, lecturers and students – in short the people! And we’ve seen from the middle east what problems governments can have when they fall out with the people.

First up were the students whose magnificent response, on 10 November 2010 and in two subsequent demonstrations, to the tripling of their course fees put backbone into the response of everyone else and encouraged people to join the march of half a million on March 26th. If this was what the apathetic generation could do, just think what older generations could achieve.

Some of the student demonstrators got carried away and one was severely criticised by the media for climbing up the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The media said it was a memorial for the dead of two world wars, which of course it is, but the real living memorials are the NHS, free education and the welfare state. We’re here today because we owe it to future generations to pass those on.

It’s clear that the ConDem govt is rattled and has been forced to Pause Listen Reflect on its Health Bill. The nurses’ 99% rejection of their proposals this week reinforced the message: never mind pausing, listening and reflecting, abandon your plans now.

My local hospital, the Royal Free, is losing 450 jobs. It’s estimated that efficiency savings mean there are 50,000 job losses in the pipeline nationally. Of course these are not cuts, because there are no cuts in the NHS. They say, if you are going to tell a lie, tell a whopper. So when Cameron assures us the NHS is safe in his hands, don’t believe it. You’d be safer juggling with gelignite.

But these non-cuts will be made in a very sympathetic way because, believe it or not, Cameron’s own family have used the NHS. He’s one of us, just an ordinary Dave, who happens to have an estimated family fortune of £35m, is fifth cousin twice removed to the Queen – a bastard descendent of William IV – with all the experience of life that Eton and the Oxbridge Bullingdon Toff’s club can bring.

Osborne and Boris Johnson were in the Bullingdon Club too. Actually Boris Johnson has told us in his autobiography what they got up to on one of the Bullingdon Club’s jolly japes, : ”We got drunk, trashed the Ritz & then walked down Piccadilly to loot a few items from Fortnums.” This was of course long before UKUncut took an interest in Fortnum and Masons.

But maybe we are doing the Tories a disservice, despite the fact that nearly all the cabinet are millionaires. After all when the spending cuts were announced last October, they informed us they would conduct ‘happiness surveys’ based presumably on the Etonian philosophy that ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves.’

American film-maker, Michael Moore, says the best way to make cuts in the NHS is just to spend as little as possible on those seriously ill – death as efficiency savings. He implores us not to follow the USA system where the biggest cause of both home repossessions and bankruptcy is health care bills.

We can assure Michael that, after this brief pause, we won’t allow Lansley to do to the NHS what the bankers did to the economy. We’ve got them on the run and we will fight him all the way. And let’s be absolutely clear with the spivs and wideboys – slavering in line to make a killing from the government’s proposals – that the NHS is not for sale.

The Tories clearly had secret plans but the government has no mandate for this legislation. The people voted centre-left with Labour and LibDems securing15.5 million votes against 10.7m for the Tory Party. Indeed, the coalition partners often promised the opposite of what they are doing now. Nick Pledge and Vince Fable were resolutely opposed to ‘Tuition Fees’ and garnered the majority of the student vote. Cameron and Gove promised not to scrap Educational Maintenance Allowances for FE college students.

The cuts are unfair – they say we must all share the pain but the cuts hit the poor and vulnerable the most. Economists Horton and Reeve have estimated that they will cost the poorest 10%, 22p in every pound; while the richest 10% lose only 3.5 p. The change from RPI to CPI as a means of calculating inflation proofing robs pensioners currently of 1% each year – or an estimated average of £8k between retirement and death.

The cuts are not necessary – the scale of the problem is grossly over-hyped. At the moment government debt stands at 70% of GDP. Between 1920 and 1960 it was never below100%. After WW2 it was 250% and that was when the Health Service and Welfare State were built. The IMF shows that UK debt is the lowest in the G 7 – which includes France, Germany, Canada and the USA. Even if you accept their figures, the speed of repayment is suicidal. As the Leader of the Welsh Assembly said: “You have to pay off your mortgage, but you don’t starve yourself to pay it off in 3 years.”

There are alternatives to the cuts: Progressive taxation is the passport to a civilised society. A serious effort to raise the £25b tax avoidance and £70b tax evasion and to get back the £20b non collected tax could raise £115b and wipe out the £83b estimated deficit with £32b to spare. Instead of sacking 25,000 tax collectors, you would take on more staff and instead sack their newly-appointed advisor, Sir Phillip Green, who one year evaded all tax by paying £1.2b into his wife’s Monaco bank account.

There are many other measures: raise income tax on those earning over £100,000; introducing a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on bank financial transactions would yield £13b; collecting National Insurance contributions on all earnings not just up to £850 per week, so richest 10% pay same proportion as the poorest. The £7b in bankers’ bonuses could cover all NHS cuts. Professor Greg Philo has pointed out that converting the Government’s debt to a 20% tax on the assets of those with wealth of more than a million, which could be paid over years like a loan, would clear the deficit overnight. Finally, not-replacing Trident would save £70 b + on costs.

These cuts make matters worse – the govt measures will not regenerate the economy but are leading to structural unemployment with 1m youth on the dole when FE college budgets are cut by 25%. Sacking public service workers is not an efficient saving: UNISON has pointed out that 92% of cost of employing a public service worker is recouped by the state through raised taxes and reduced benefit pay-outs.

This brings other problems – scapegoating as people fight over what work is left – unemployment is the swamp in which the mosquitoes of racism breed. Someone needs to tell David Cameron that it is the flyboys of finance capital who caused this crisis not a few Muslim women who choose to wear hijab headscarves.

The real purpose is not just to economise but to privatise, to open up the health service to any-private provider who wishes to cherry-pick profitable slices of the NHS. For the Tories the cuts are not so much a crisis as a long-awaited opportunity to dismantle the welfare state. The Big Society is a YOYO society – You’re on your own. If you can’t cope and ask for help you are put in FOFO mode – F off and Find out for yourself. The Big Society means Do It Yourself or Go Private.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking – Cameron rails at the failure of immigrants to learn English yet ESOL classes have been slashed, fees have gone beyond the reach of most immigrants and certain groups are not entitled to public provision until they’ve been in the country for 6 or 12 months. Gove says he wants kids to read 50 books a year, yet at last count some 600 libraries were scheduled for closure.

It’s not so much a coalition Govt as a demolition govt. But it is weak. The cracks are evident. It can be made to U-turn on the NHS just as it has done on forests, and even partially on EMAs. We have made governments U-turn before: e.g. Heath in 1972. And we drove Thatcher out after a mass campaign of civil disobedience over the Poll Tax in 1990.

We are starting to get them on the run. We need to get them out. – beginning with the local elections next week. We need to turn up the heat – unleash a tidal wave of contempt, to protest, demonstrate, strike and occupy; to fight them library by library, ward by ward, surgery by surgery, A&E by A&E.

And it will take more than a few happiness surveys and the distraction of a Royal Wedding to stop us.

About the Bill
There is always room for improvement in large organisations, the NHS has and always will strive to improve the services they provide free at the point of delivery. These ideological reforms are not needed, listed below are some of their effects:

Around £80 billion of taxpayers money will be handed over to GP consortia and an NHS Commissioning Board that will meet with press and public excluded, publish no papers, and not even be required to consult before imposing cuts, closures and major changes.
The reforms could cost a massive £3 billion or more which will be taken out of the Health Budget and effectively privatise almost 1 million NHS staff in England by 2014.

Clinical services are for the first time being opened up to bids from “Any Willing Provider” – with competition based on the lowest price – opening the door to cowboy private companies and smashing down quality of care, similar to how privatisation of hospital cleaning wrecked hygiene standards and kick started MRSA in the 80s.

GPs will not really be in charge but will be under the thumb of a remote NHS Commissioning Board. GPs will not have any say over which providers are used, all the real work of commissioning services will be done by back-room management teams mostly from private companies and could effectively lead to less patient choice and a post code lottery.

The expansion of private providers will inevitably lead to them cherry picking profitable services, which will bankrupt and close many local NHS services and hospitals, leaving patients to travel further for treatment.

Foundation Trusts will be free to make as much money as they like from private medicine, treating more wealthy patients from home and abroad, while NHS budgets are squeezed.

GP consortia have been set up without any comprehensive consultation with their own patients or public.

The NHS is currently under going £20 billion of efficiency savings and the GP consortia will be forced to act as rationing boards, deciding what services to close and exclude from the NHS.

Stories have recently been muted in the press that the reforms will allow and encourage GP consortia to float their business in the Stock Market creating a profit before people mentality.

Shadow health secretary John Healey has warned that the government’s proposed NHS reform has big foreign firms “licking their lips” at the prospect of commissioning billions of pounds of services on behalf of GPs.

It is widely believed that once the reforms have been introduced and are in operation, in time, it will lead to total privatisation and the introduction of an American style private health insurance based system.